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 A chapter on faith with closing remarks on suffering

It's not my chapter of course. There's sure a lot going on these days requiring faith and more of it. Suffering, trials and a world seeming to turn away more and more from faith and even the concept of it. We know who we have believed though. "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."

Have a blessed holiday everyone.

FAITH!

Who can fully measure or express the potential represented by that short, simple word - FAITH?

Perhaps the clearest way to bring faith's potential into focus is to set side by side two statements made by Jesus:

With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)
All things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23)

In each of these statements we find the words "all things are possible." In the first passage they are applied to God; in the second they are applied to the one who believes. It is not too difficult, perhaps, to accept that all things are possible with God. Can we equally accept that all things are possible to the one who believes? Yet that is what Jesus tells us.

In practical terms, what does this mean? It means that, through faith, the things that are possible to God are made equally possible to the one who believes. Faith is the channel that makes God's possibilities available to us. Through faith, all that is possible to God becomes equally possible to us. No wonder that from beginning to end, the Bible consistently emphasizes the unique and supreme importance of faith.

Faith Defined

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews deals exclusively with the theme of faith. Its opening verse provides us with a definition of faith as the term is used in the Bible.

"Now faith is the *substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

"Substance" is the alternative given in the margin for "assurance" and it better expresses the literal meaning.

This verse tells us two things about faith. First, "faith is the substance of things hoped for." Faith is so real that it is actually called a substance. The Greek word is hupostasis. It means literally "that which stands under" something else or "provides the basis for" something else.

The same word hupostasis occurs in Hebrews 1:3 where we are told that Jesus is "the exact representation of the Father's nature. The word here translated "nature" is hupostasis. The meaning is that God the Father is the eternal, invisible, underlying reality of which Jesus Christ, the Son, is the visible expression. Applying this to Hebrews 11:1, we may say that faith is the "underlying reality" of things hoped for. Faith is real. Faith is a substance.
Secondly, faith is "the conviction of things not seen." Other translations say, the evidence of things not seen." Whichever translation we prefer, the vital point is that faith deals with things we cannot see. Faith relates to the invisible.

Two verses further on, in Hebrews 11:3, the writer again stresses faith's relationship to the invisible:

"By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible."

The writer here points to a contrast between "what is seen" and "things which are not visible," between the visible and the invisible. Our senses relate us to the visible world, to "what is seen." But faith takes us behind the scenes to the invisible - to the underlying reality by which the whole universe was formed: that is, the word of God.

Thus faith relates to two eternal invisible realities: to God Himself and to His word. Biblical faith has only these two objects. In secular speech, of course, we speak of faith in many other contexts. We can talk about having faith in a newspaper, or in a medicine, or in a political leader. But faith is not used in that way in the Bible. In the Bible, faith is related solely and exclusively to two things we cannot see with the natural eye: first to God, and second to God's word.

By Faith, Not by Sight

The opposition between faith and sight is brought out by Paul in II Corinthians 5:7: "for we walk by faith, not by sight." If we walk by sight, we do not need faith. If we walk by faith, we do not need sight. Each excludes the other.

This is contrary to our natural way of thinking. The world says, "Seeing is believing." But the Bible reverses the order: First, we must believe, then we will see. This principle is so important that we will look at some passages of Scripture that illustrate it. In Psalm 27:13 David says, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." Which came first, believing or seeing? Believing. What was true for David is true for all of us. If we cannot believe that we will see the goodness of the Lord, we will despair. The thing that keeps us from despairing is not what we see but what we believe.

This agrees with the statement made about Moses in Hebrews 11:27:

"By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen."

Nothing in Moses' visible circumstances at this time could give him any hope or encouragement. But in spite of all that was against him, he "endured" because he was able to "see the unseen." How did he do this? By faith. Faith enables us to "see the unseen" and thus to endure when the visible world offers us no hope or encouragement.

Again, we turn to the record of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John chapter 11. In verses 39-40 we read:

39 - "Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench; for he has been dead four days."

40 - "Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

What Jesus asks here of Martha, He asks of all who desire to see the glory of God. We must "believe that we will see." We do not see first, then believe. We believe first; then - as a result of believing - we see. Faith comes before sight.

Here, then is the basic conflict between the old nature and the new nature. The old nature demands to see since the old nature lives by the senses. God has to deliver us from that old nature and that old way of life and bring us to a new nature and a new way of life which says, "I'm content not to see. I don't walk by sight but by faith."

In II Corinthians 4:17-18 we are challenged yet once more by the contrast between the visible and the invisible:

17 - "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."

18 - "while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Paul's language here contains a deliberate paradox. He speaks about "looking at the things which are not seen." How can we do this? There is only one way - by faith!

There is great significance in the word "while": "while we look not at the things which are seen." It stresses the same lesson that Moses learned in his test of endurance. In the providence of God, affliction serves a useful purpose for the believer. It forms and strengthens our character and prepares us for the eternal glory that lies ahead. But affliction serves us only as we keep our eyes on the invisible realm. If we lose sight of this and become preoccupied with the world of time and of the senses, we are no longer able to receive the benefits that affliction is intended to work out for us.

So we are caught between two worlds, the temporal and the eternal. The temporal is that which we can see; we contact it with our senses. But the eternal is the world God wants us at home in. And we can be at home in that world by only one means: faith. Faith is the one thing that relates us to the unseen realities of God and His word.

Summary

Faith lifts us above the realm of our own ability and makes God's possibilities available to us.

Faith relates us to two unseen realities: God and His word. As we maintain this relationship to God through faith, we are enabled to endure and to overcome the tests and the hardships that confront us in our daily life. These in turn become opportunities for God to reveal His goodness and His glory.

(D.P.)


_________________
David Winter

 2008/11/26 21:29Profile





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